Short Attention Span Theater

Salutations and good morrow. Before we begin, I’d like to get my hustle on for a moment if you don’t mind. I’m trying to sell my guitar and so far I haven’t had a whole lot of luck. It’s a Fender Strat, made in 2000 or 2001. It’s got a wine-red finish with the solid maple neck. It’s in great condition and has very rarely even been played. I’m looking to sell this along with a hard-shell case (disclaimer: the case does have a crack on the outside but it’s not going to affect the guitar), a Crybaby wah-wah pedal that isn’t in the best visual condition but still works, and some added accessories including a strap, picks, extra strings, and some amp cables. And all of this for the outright reasonable price of $300 plus shipping and handling.

Contact me at my email, or on mine MySpace page, or through AIM at MurphToTheMax. Or just leave a comment on this article with your information if you’re interested, and I can facilitate some pictures so you know what you’re getting. If you or anyone you know is looking for a guitar, please let me know because I can’t continue to crank out this award-winning column if I can’t pay my rent.

Poppin’ Off on the Top

Billboard.com’s Top 10 Hot Rap Tracks

1. “Lollipop” by Lil’ Wayne f/Static Major
Lil’ Wayne takes his at-bat with T-Pain’s vocorder and makes a crazy danceable, addictive track. The current trend of hip-hop and techno fusion is starting to get interesting; considering my generally low opinion of all forms of electronica, it takes a little bit of a hip-hop groove to make any of that Star Wars-sounding shit danceable. This track is hypnotic, good for the dance floor and better for the blunt circle.

2. “She Got It” by 2 Pistols f/T-Pain and Tay Dizm
Bleh. I can’t get into the whole “epic-sounding string arrangement” thing in hip-hop; it just sounds like they’re trying to remix the theme from Days of Our Lives. Nothing really notable about this one, as you’ll have forgotten about it by the time it isn’t fresh anymore.

3. “Low” by Flo Rida f/T-Pain
Jesus, this one’s still going?

4. “The Boss” by Rick Ross f/T-Pain
Hey, T-Pain on a track… haven’t heard that before. Rick Ross is kinda confounding. I don’t get into the whole tall-tale aspect of rappers and their supposed criminal records (I still think that “bullet hole” on 50 Cent’s face was a particularly nasty zit), and with Ross it’s just kinda embarrassing. He’s a little older and he has the kind of look where you’d think he’d go for a more stately, royalistic point of view; instead he comes on like he’s really gotta prove how gangsta he is and it’s just a little sad. This track isn’t bad though, as it’s got a lot of energy and the hook is catchy.

5. “Independent” by Webbie f/Lil Phat and Lil Boosie
I have a standing rule not to piss on any track that actually extolls some feminist virtues, like in this case the power of an independent woman. (Unless of course, it’s “Independent Woman” by Destiny’s Child. You’re not independent if you need someone to “Pay My Bills”, girls.) This one takes a typical N’Awlins bounce beat and keeps things moving quick, but it’s a little juvenile and the spelling gimmick smells too much like will.i.am. Still, this one gets a digit just for the lyrical theme. Gunfire, Webbie.

6. “Dey Know” by Shawty Low
Just outright annoying with the “hello hello dey know dey know” chorus, and the beat that sounds like it was cribbed from a song on DDR.

7. “I Won’t Tell” by Fat Joe f/J. Holiday
Joe brings it like always with his rhymes (I like the part where drops into patois in the first verse to say “me run New York”) but the love song thing just doesn’t usually work for me. The hook sounds like it came out of Chris Brown’s reject bin. Joe can do better.

8. “Umma Do Me” by Rocko
Maybe I’ve been avoiding the club for too many weeks, but when did all the samples used to build a beat in the current hits sound like they came out of ’80s-era soap operas? That’s the vibe I get from a lot of these—that lush but soulless sounding synthesized-string effect. This one’s another one for the scrap heap.

9. “Superstar” by Lupe Fiasco f/Matthew Santos
Lupe’s actually playing a little ways away from me tonight, marking, I think, the first ever rap concert in St. Lawrence County, N.Y. I might be wrong on that, but still, it’s pretty cool. And I’m not going, unfortunately. Lupe staked his claim as a genius MC with “Kick Push” even though that one had quite a few lines that landed flat. This one is the one that’ll show everyone who only has listened to his hits that Lupe’s a master. It’s cool that he built such an addictive track around a Bono-style indie type vocal, too.

10. “Elevator” by Flo Rida feat. Timbaland It doesn’t have the hook that “Low” has, but that probably means it won’t be as annoying as “Low” when we hear it another 10 million times.

The Pennywise Screeds

I. Unprecedented Hoopla

So despite the fact that even their fellow skate punks got bored with them at least five years ago, Pennywise recently were en vogue again with the release of their new album, A Reason to Believe, on MySpace Records. After a long career with Epitaph, Pennywise decided to jump over to the zeitgeist that is MySpace and release an album for free download. This apparently caused several hundred thousand people to download the record, and drive its lead-off single, “The Western World”, up the charts. The album is no longer available for free download but it can be purchased at the local record shop. These are the facts.

II. Behind the Hoopla

J.R. asked me, when the Pennywise album was first available, to review it. I was game at first but after I listened to it, I felt like I had nothing to say about it. I’ve always liked Pennywise, but apart from a few songs (“Fight Til You Die” and “Bro Hymn Tribute”, namely) I’ve always thought of them to be a little esoteric; good background noise for a skate session or car wreck. (That happened to me once, and the last line before we crashed was “will we make it through the day?” Eerie.) I don’t really want to piss on them because I don’t have any hard feelings, I just don’t feel like any individual song off A Reason to Believe stood out.

Now let’s consider: being a blown-in-the-glass punk fan and a Pennywise listener, I should be much more willing to tolerate their new album than the average schmo. They don’t tread any really different ground from any of their previous releases, except maybe a little more metalcore influence on a few tracks. So why all of a sudden are thousands of people interested in Pennywise? Easy answer is that they aren’t. This whole intentionally free music trend is turning a lot of the music featured into disposable pap. People will apparently listen to anything as long as they don’t have to pay for it, and it can be easily streamed on a MySpace page and then forgotten.

Also, let us consider that the numbers recorded were of who streamed the album, not necessarily those who actually listened to it. I’m sure a large number, dare I guess half or more, of the people who streamed it probably just shuffled through a few tracks and moved on, or didn’t even do that much. All you had to do to obtain it was to add the album’s benefactor, TexTango, to your friends on MySpace. People do all sorts of stupid mindless shit without actually paying attention to it on MySpace, so it’s not too hard to imagine someone stumbled on the TexTango link and just added it for the sheer everlovin’ hell of it.

III. Punk or Pandering?

My first thought when I found out the Pennywise album would be free was, “my, how punk of them,” because sadly, my mind still works like that. In any of the articles I read about the Pennywise phenomenon (most of which had lots to say about how the album was released and not what it sounded like) the general spin was that these punk veterans were rejecting the corporate album release grist mill and doing this for free because, well, that’s the punk spirit. Now I’m not trying to doubt Pennywise’s punk credentials, nor do I particularly care for that matter, but I do have to doubt that there is anything DIY or organic about any free album releases. Bands cutting out the middleman and releasing their albums directly to the public (see also, Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails) is the new trend and it gets a lot of press. I don’t quite understand why, since the bands in question seem to just want to get attention for facilitating something that is going to happen with or without them anyway.

Just the sheer fact that post-In Rainbows, releasing an album for free on the Internet is the new cool thing for an alternative band to do for attention makes me feel cynical about Pennywise getting any cred for doing it. They jumped on a trend, and did it in the hostile waters of MySpace at that. It’s an effort by an aging band trying to regain some interest amongst a fanbase that isn’t going to pay for their records anymore, not any kind of anti-corporate statement

IV. The Greying of a Genre

“Aging” being the key word there. Pennywise are all pushing 40 if not there already, lead singer Jim Lindberg even authored a book about being a father of two young girls and a punk. Punk rock, in general, has never aged well. I’ve covered this before, but the point still stands. It’s always been a nihilistic youth genre at heart. Nowadays, the veterans of the early-’70s punk explosion are getting the nostalgia bug, and you’re seeing all sorts of TV features and magazine articles about the heyday of punk, CBGBs vintage. While I’m all for the idea of snotty young kids knocking the older dinosaurs of punk out of the way, I kinda wonder why punk bands always get so tame and hopeless when they try and release a record in their golden years. It seems like they always fall into two categories: pathetically attempting to position themselves as relevant to the current generation while trying to imitate their own glory days, or just saying damn the torpedoes and making a blatantly softer, more docile record and writing off their own anarchist past as just being unbridled youth energy (for examples of both, refer to Stiff Little Fingers’ Guitar and Drum).

What I don’t get is why there isn’t a wealth of angry-old-man punk. I mean, in my daily life, I meet a shit of a lot more bitter, depressed, and generally pissed off old guys than I do people my age. And not all of them are just defeated and limping along, a lot of them can’t shut up about how bad their life sucks. The world today is more of a cesspool of despair and negativity than it was in the ’70s and ’80s when most of these older punks were inventing the genre, so why aren’t more of them pissed off about it? The few that are still limping along seem resigned to just wax poetic about how bad things are (see Bad Religion) or make cheesy jokes about Ann Coulter (see NOFX … actually, don’t, as that would REALLY depress you).

I can’t fathom that there is nobody north of 40 who has the combination of vitriol and adrenaline necessary to make really angry, loud, obnoxious music. You’re not seeing any of it from the younger bands, these days, because they’ve all been lulled into docility by all the pretty iPhone ads. Even the one veteran hardcore icon that can be counted on to still be an angry mope, Ian MacKaye, is making mellow and low-key music fit for coffee shops and churches with The Evens. The only song, in fact, that I can think of that captures the unique gestalt of being a bitter old prick is “Goddamn Bottle” by Lazy Cowgirls, and that’s done with tongue at least partially in-cheek. I don’t get it. Haven’t the last 20-30 years been enough of a kick in the junk to the average American with an ax to grind that we can get some good, bitter, potentially treasonous punk rock out of it? Apparently not. Instead, like Pennywise, they limp along trying to do the same old shit over and over again, and hope that they can capture lightning in a bottle one more time.

V. The Ole Green Hairs Just Ain’t What They Used to Be

This in fact begs the question: what should a band do when they aren’t up to rocking in the way that they used to? It seems like very few acts in the punk and hardcore realm seem to know which way to go on this front. We’ll of course discount the bands that do the smart thing and just break up rather than flog their legacy into the ground so they don’t have to get day jobs (or do the even smarter thing and just die like Sid Vicious).

Certain bands can get away with just playing their own back catalog on tour once a year into infinity because they’ll always have a loyal throng that will go see them no matter what. Dead Kennedys are the prime examples of this, although why anyone would want to see what passes as the DKs nowadays boggles my fragile little brainpan. My motto is: there’s always room for Jello.

Even individual band members can drum up a crowd when they put together a new act. Remember that god-awful abortion from about five years ago, where Jerry Only of the Misfits, Dez Cadena of Black Flag, and Johnny Ramone got together and played a bunch of punked-up ’50s songs? Punk and hardcore have always been about bucking the celebrity trendsetter cycle; there is no possible reason why anyone would want to see that show besides to say “dude I totally saw Johnny Ramone and Jerry Only in person!” Anyone who actually went to one of those shows should be ashamed of themselves and all the aforementioned band members should never show their faces in public again (except of course Johnny Ramone, who shit the bed a year later). So there’s that route, anyway, the nostalgia act route. Overall it really isn’t a bad way to go, despite my cynicism, because it pays the bills and there’s always a chance that you’ll see Stiff Little Fingers and they’ll crank out a really bitchin’ version of “Suspect Device” that will make you appreciate it anew.

The opposite approach, then, would be the band that completely turns their back on the sound that made them popular and betray the style that forged their name in the first place. The earlier in their career that this goes on, the more it smacks of trend-hopping, and the less forgivable it is. While growth and expanded creativity is a must for any outfit that wants to have a long career, on Planet Punk it’s hard to deal with because generally it becomes a matter of “we’ve outgrown that silly childish screaming.” In my 411 days I even went as far as to blame The Clash for killing punk rock as we know it by setting the precedent for a punk act to branch out musically and then retroactively piss on their own punk roots. Nowadays it’s become part and parcel of a band’s trajectory; they start out doing Ramones covers and then once they start making money they add more and more derivatives of “-core” to their sound until all of a sudden they’re Slayer with less low-end in the mix.

In nines cases out of ten this just means that the band is out of ideas and wants to start cannibalizing the classic blues riffs that most of rock has been pillaging for near 50 years (and we can all agree that of any form of rock music, punk and hardcore seem to be the furthest removed from the gutbucket Delta blues that rock was built on; this is probably why the music is so sexless and Teutonic in nature.) But (!) now and then there are a few bands that realize they’re about to jump the shark in terms of where they can go as a strict punk/hardcore act and give up the ghost altogether, becoming something different and better in the process. Like, I’m sure everyone thinks AFI were just trying to get famous when they traded in their top notch fist pumping hardcore for goth-inflected emo. I just see it as a group that knew their strengths and limitations. If, as has been established by bands such as Pennywise, a hardcore act will get stale if they keep trying to do the same things in their 30s as they did in their 20s, AFI picked the perfect time in their careers to trade up. Davey Havok’s howl won’t last forever, y’know, and the fact that he has some of the most powerful pipes in all of rock is a good indication that he needed to start using them on some more tuneful songs. You can argue until the cows come home about whether AFI or any other band in this tradition are treasonous pigdogs and you might be right. It stands to reason, though, that if a band won’t break up they’re better served to at least try to grow.

VI. Summation

If I sound particularly hard on Pennywise here, I don’t mean to be. I’m glad to see that a band that was at least once making decent energetic music is getting some kind of attention. I also very strongly hope that whatever boost they get from a bunch of new fans will influence the next record they release and hopefully spark some kind of creative rebirth. It’s just really saddening to see that at this point in time, a band can get more attention for the medium in which their record is released than what it actually sounds like. And it’s also saddening that a once decent band can have their most tepid work heard by more people than their best.

Music Fans I Can Do Without

– Anyone who likes to make that joke about what happens when you play a country song backwards.

– 32-year-old men in Miley Cyrus t-shirts with several open sores on their lip.

– AC/DC fans that aren’t also Motörhead fans.

– AC/DC fans that are also Airborne fans.

– Anyone who carries an acoustic guitar with them everywhere they go.

– Especially if they only know two songs.

– Obese women in sweatpants and a Taylor Hicks shirt who refer to their cats as their children.

– Cobain-is-God kids who listen to Nickelback and won’t admit it.

– Strippers who go onstage to any country song, no matter how good it is.

– Anyone who hears “Crazy Bitch” and goes “Oh this song is so me!”

Song for the Bong

One of the more unappreciated trippy stoner-rock bands of the last decade has been Butthole Surfers. Aside from the freak popularity of “Pepper” and “Who Was in My Room Last Night” being on Guitar Hero 2, very few people are aware of their contributions. Lead singer Gibby Haynes was formerly in a side project with Johnny Depp and was close friends with Kurt Cobain (unfortunately, it was Haynes who told Kurt about all the people who escaped his rehab clinic by jumping over the wall, which Cobain did a few days before killing himself). Paul Leary of the band was also the producer of Sublime’s career-defining self-titled 1996 album.

While a lot of the tracks off of 1996’s “Pepper”-driven Electriclarryland were a little bizarre and esoteric, quite a few were some good ol’ kick-in-the-cochlea rawk and roll with just an appropriate spice of psychedelia on top. The best of these, in my opinion, was “The Lord Is a Monkey”. Hendrix inspired as the album title, this one takes a simple two-note wah-wah riff and wraps it around a beat-poet-styled series of verses about “a girl with a needle in her eye” and vibes a little Snoop with “she got her mind on her money and her dope up her ass”. The song just continually builds into an epic, manic, mindf*ck of a freakout at the end, but the riff never relents on the groove. A totally appropriate song for either a round of cannabis inhalation or a ridin’-dirty road trip through the seedy underside of this neon sewer we call America.

Well that’s it for this time churren. Till we meet again, screw tipping your bartenders; buy my guitar!

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